Tuesday, April 30, 2013

ttt: top ten words/topics that make me pick up a book


This week's Top Ten Tuesday on the Broke and the Bookish is Top Ten Words or Topics That Make You Pick Up a Book.

While a good title/cover usually first attracts me to a book, when I skim through the blurb, I'm always hoping to see one of the words/topics below. Of course some books have a different sort of appeal, but by and large, I could put the books I read into one of the follow categories:


TOP TEN TUESDAY:
Top Ten Words/Topics That Make Me Pick Up a Book

1. Victorian/Edwardian (or really, any year between 1600 and 1950)



2. Whimsical/Magical/Enchanting



3. Funny



4. Dark



5. Mystery/Twist/Secret



6. Boarding School/College



7. Speculative Fiction/Science Fiction/Dystopian



8. Britain/France (anywhere cool really, but those two stick out)



9. Magical Realism



10. Playing with Time



What words/topics make you pick up a book?

Monday, April 29, 2013

anna and the french kiss

I'm really not a chic-lit reader and I only read YA when it's a book that's been raved about, but too many people have recommended Anna and the French Kiss for me not to read it. Plus, it's got so many things I love: PARIS, a cute boy with a British accent, a boarding school environment, the French language, movie references, etc. I had to give it a try. 

We begin with our narrator Anna Oliphant being shipped off to boarding school against her wishes. However, she quickly makes four great new friends and finds herself in love with one of them: Etienne St. Clair. Of course everything is complicated (as it always is) by the fact that St. Clair has a girlfriend and Anna left behind a crush-maybe-more back home. Teenage drama and angst ensues with lots of miscommunications and unspoken desires. But they're in the City of Love, so don't get too worried about their romantic fate. 

First off, let me say that there is a lot of ridiculousness. Let me make a list:
  1. Anna is seriously pissed about being sent to Paris. Furious.
  2. Despite knowing that French people speak some English, she usually prefers not to speak to them at all.
  3. Even after 9 MONTHS in France, Anna gets nervous saying a phrase as simple as "Bonne soirée."
  4. Of course St. Clair is so hot that nearly every girl at school gapes as he walks past.
  5. The "mean girl" is just that. Nothing more. She only exists to be mean to Anna. No dimension whatsoever.
  6. Not to mention both St. Clair's dad and Anna's dad, who are understood to just be jerks. Completely flat.
  7. There is no good reason for St. Clair to stay with Ellie so long. It just makes him seem stupid.
  8. Anna (a film buff) really didn't think Paris would have many movie theaters?
HOWEVER (and this is a big however), I really enjoyed it. It's a true guilty pleasure. Sometimes stupid, but also cute and simple and quick. And a huge, huge part of my love for it is really just my love for Paris. If it hadn't been set in Paris, I wouldn't have liked it even half as much as I did (and I certainly wouldn't have read it). I loved every time Anna mentioned a specific place and I was able to flip back through memories of my own time in Paris. Especially the bits about Notre Dame, Shakespeare & Co., Pere Lachaise, and Jardin Luxembourg. I would have loved more descriptions of Paris or the food (did she even mention baguettes?!?). And while the romance was a little silly, I believed it and I appreciated that they were friends first (despite strong attraction on both ends) and had some cute getting-to-know-you scenes. No, it's not a great love story and no, the writing's not fantastic, but if you don't mind some teenage drama and you love Paris, this is a good book. 

B+ fluff.

TITLE: Anna and the French Kiss
AUTHOR: Stephanie Perkins
PUBLICATION DATE: 2 December 2010
DATE FINISHED: 24 April 2013
VERDICT: 3/5 stars. Though full of teen angst/silliness, an easy, quick, and cute book (especially for lovers of Paris).


P.S. Isn't this a good representation of Anna and her friends? Just how I pictured them.



Josh, Rashmi, Anna, St. Clair, and Meredith
source

(And because I can't pass up an opportunity to post pictures of Paris . . .) 


Some of the locations Anna visits in the book:



Père Lachaise


Père Lachaise


Up in Notre Dame (Galerie des Chimères)
Galerie des Chimères 


Galerie des Chimères


Galerie des Chimères


Galerie des Chimères


Shakespeare & Co.


Shakespeare & Co.


Le Point Zéro
Sweets at a Patisserie

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

a dual inheritance

ATTENTION: I received this book courtesy of Goodreads.  (Side Note: If anyone didn't know, Goodreads has tons of free giveaways. This was my first time winning and I was ecstatic! Definitely check out their offerings from time to time and throw your name in the hat). 

Harvard University, 1963: two young men meet in the fall of their senior year and become quick friends despite their differences. 

Ed Cantowitz is there on a scholarshiphe's poor, Jewish, girl-crazy, and studying finance. Hugh Shipley is in many ways Ed's oppositewealthy, comes from a respectable and well-known family, a bit lazy, set on one girl (a girl from his boarding school days), and studying anthropology. Where Ed is awkward but confident, Hugh is sophisticated but apologetic. While Ed is determined be rich, Hugh seems embarrassed by his wealth and wants to help those suffering in third-world countries. The book follows these two men from their college days to first jobs, marriages, children, world travel, until we finally leave them in the early 2010s. 

The first half of this book captivated me. The writing is lovely and I felt very close to both Hugh and Ed. I loved when they visited Ed's father in his tiny, run-down apartment and when they spent the weekend with Helen's well-to-do family at their lake-house. The atmosphere was appealing and well-described: fall at Harvard, rich people drinking too much alcohol, Ed's first job in finance. But at some point, my connection with the characters fell away. I couldn't hear their voices as well and they didn't seem to quite match with their earlier, college-boy selves. Then it really went downhill for me when the author switched to talking about their daughters. I just didn't care about their daughters. I missed Ed and Hugh and not only that, but I wish the author hadn't made their lives go so far downhill. I'm not a "sunshine and roses" type of girl, but I also don't want a book to just show me two men's lives slowly falling apart. In my perfect world, the book would have ended around 1970 (the plot refigured to make that a suitable place to end), we would have heard it all from Ed and Hugh's voices, it'd be 100 pages shorter, and they both wouldn't be so contemptible as they aged.

I just wish A Dual Inheritance had lived up to its first half. I was completely prepared to love it.


TITLE: A Dual Inheritance
AUTHOR: Joanna Hershon
PUBLICATION DATE: 7 May 2013
DATE FINISHED: 17 April 2013
VERDICT: 3/5 stars. Invigorating start, detached and depressing finish.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

ttt: top ten books with wonderful endings

This week's Top Ten Tuesday on the Broke and the Bookish is a Top Ten rewind (meaning you can pick any past topic that you missed). So I chose that feature that can make or break a book: its ending.

Too often I'm loving a book only to find everything I enjoyed falling apart in the last few pages, but an ending can also elevate a so-so book to something satisfying and great. You gotta start well (so you don't toss the book aside) and end well (so you're left feeling contented and thoughtful). Here are some of my favorites.


 

* Don't worryI won't give anything away! I considered writing a little more, but I think great endings are only great when you don't know any details beforehand.

TOP TEN TUESDAY:
Top Ten Books with Wonderful Endings

1. Dark Places (Gillian Flynn)

2. We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver)

3. The Blind Assassin (Margaret AtwoodThis is a great example of an ending that improved a so-so book for me)

4. Little Children (Tom Perrotta)

5. The Little Stranger (Sarah Waters- Perfect last line, though the ending itself was slightly disappointing)

6. Affinity (Sarah Waters)

7. The Night Watch (Sarah WatersI've obviously got a thing for Ms. Waters . . . )

8. Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen)

9. Lord of the Flies (William Golding)

10. Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire (J.K. Rowling)


What are some of your favorite books with great endings? I'd love to know! 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

the secret keeper

During a game of hide-and-seek, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson hides in a treehouse at her family's home in the English countryside. Just as she is about to head back down to the birthday party nearby, she sees an ominous figure walking down the road. Only Laurel views what happens next between the man and her mother, Dorothy, who exits the house at the wrong moment. But this secret haunts Laurel for years and yearsas she becomes an adult, moves to London, becomes a famous Oscar-winning actress, and eventually returns to her childhood home because her mother is sick and dying. As Laurel tries to figure out the mystery behind that fateful day 50 years before, the author flashes us back to the 1940s (WWII London) and slowly reveals the many secrets Laurel's mother has hidden from her family.

This is an exciting, page-turning mystery that flips back and forth between the detective (Laurel) and the enigma (Dorothy). It urges readers to make guesses at the truth, often blatantly presenting possible solutions, and I'll admit that I was brainstorming ideas from page one until the very end. Of the ten or so ideas I came up with, about half were true; this is a story of many mysteries/secrets. I appreciated that the author created a story that invites so much speculation and I loved being both successful at hitting the target and also surprised by what I hadn't guessed.

However, I didn't always love the writing. It feels like a cliché detective story at times, like something you'd see on an old TV show. Characters occasionally speak aloud to themselves, too many clues are nicely tucked into diaries and letters, and the library just happens to hold the perfect sources. It was very convenient. Too convenient, I think, to feel realistic or convincing. This feeling was amplified by the constant twists and turns. Just when you get one thing figured out, another mystery pops up. By the end, although I had enjoyed the journey to reach the truth, the truth itself felt too complicated and orchestrated to be satisfying.

TITLE: The Secret Keeper

AUTHOR: Kate Morton
PUBLICATION DATE: 25 October 2012
DATE FINISHED: 6 April 2013
VERDICT: 3/5 stars. It was a fun ride that kept me excited and guessing, but the ending disappointed.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

let's pretend this never happened

Quite possibly the funniest book I've ever read. Granted, I haven't read many books in the humor genre, but of the ones I've read, Jenny Lawson tops the list (easily beating out pros like Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling). Let's Pretend This Never Happened is a memoir of sorts. It begins with Jenny's childhood in a small Texan town. Some of my favorite bits involved her father, a taxidermist who loves bringing home wild animals as gifts for his family (usually alive, sometimes not . . .). The story continues through her high school years (in which she goes goth), her engagement and marriage, the birth of her daughter, and on through adulthood.

Many of the stories focus on themes we can all relate tofamily, the awkwardness of youth, love, work, home, friendsbut Jenny's experiences are often a little more outlandish than your average American's (did your dad ever throw a bobcat on your boyfriend? did your pet turkeys ever follow you into school and poop everywhere? does your town have flyers in local shops advertising free flying squirrels with rush delivery?). Plus, Jenny excels at making everything even funnier than it naturally is through her tone, vocabulary, and all-around writing expertise. My only complaint is that I wish she'd better introduced her start as a blogger. Her blog (The Bloggess) is her "claim to fame," after all, and I presume it's the reason she was able to publish this book, but she never talks about how she started blogging (it's mentioned that she has a blog, but very briefly and vaguely).

But that is a very small complaint for a book I adored. It moves quickly and I was excited to pick it up each day because I knew I was in for at least one laugh. If you're looking for a funny book (and you aren't easily offended), this is the book for you.


TITLE: Let's Pretend This Never Happened
AUTHOR: Jenny Lawson
PUBLICATION DATE: 17 April 2012
DATE FINISHED: 31 March 2013
VERDICT: 4/5 stars. Hilarious. Best memoir I've ever read.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

gatsby!

(Like Oliver! You have to shout it!)

For those of you who haven't yet seen the madness . . .



Sparkling city! Fancy parties! Shirts flying!

It's definitely a shinier take on Gatsby . . . That was the first word to come to mind, I apologize.

Maybe I should have said dazzling? Bold? Vibrant? Possibly ostentatious, but I really hope not. More flash and boom and Beyonce than the book, but maybe that's a good thing.

Just about a month to go!

Monday, April 1, 2013

happy spring!



I apologize.

I have been a shamefully lazy blogger of late.

I knew this, but I didn't realize until today that I only posted three times in February and three times in March. And of those six posts, five were book reviews. Pathetic! While I make no promises, I would really like to get back in the swing of things. Starting now. After all, it's finally spring, and spring's all about new beginnings.

Granted, it didn't look like spring until a few days ago. On February 24th, we got 8-10 inches of snow (12 in some parts of St. Louis!) and I had a great time tromping around in it with my sister's pup Meeko. It was wonderful to spend a couple days sitting by the fire with a book, making s'mores, and then heading back out to take more pictures in the snow, but I was thrilled when the weather warmed up this week. In a perfect example of schizophrenic Midwestern weather, just five days after the snowfall, I was able to go for a run in shorts and a t-shirt!

meeko loves snow

So what have I been up to these past couple months if I haven't been blogging?

  1. On February 13, I turned 23! But honestly, I still feel like I'm 21 (I was going to say 20, but if I felt 20, I wouldn't feel like I'm allowed to purchase alcohol, which is not the case). Let's just say I still feel like I'm in college. I can't believe nearly a year has passed since I graduated!
  2. Celebrated Valentine's Day and my (currently long distance) boyfriend's Spring Break with visits and date nights. :-)
  3. After learning that my library offers free online classes, I started classes in InDesign, Grant Writing, and Editing (a refresher course). They're obviously less stressful than regular college classes, but I've already learned a lot! I only wish I'd known about them years ago. The library has so much more to offer than you might think.  
  4. I started a new job a couple months ago, I'm working on some freelance projects, and I'm volunteering with a local dog rescue. Keeping busy!
  5. I began a quest to rid myself of distractions. Not entirely, of course, but I did delete over half of the blogs in my Bloglovin' feed, I rarely look at Twitter anymore, and I only check Facebook once a day (or less). Success!
  6. I read some fantastic books, as you might have noticed by all the positive reviews of late. More on this later . . .




It's good to be back. :-)

Happy spring!

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